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Death In A Valley Town, Part 4 – The Psychology of Forgiveness

He let the vision go, feeling a moment of dizziness as he did so. He stood stock still until the dizziness passed and the world resolved before him.

Mayon volcano
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See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Previous Chapters of Death in a Valley Town1. Moving Day2. The Black Jesus. 3. A Fighter and a Thief.

Jinx

Moroccan teapotThe hot tea stung Yahya’s bruised mouth and swollen lip, but he did his best to drink as he sat in Imam Saleh’s living room, sipping from a small ornate glass, and eating a bit of baklawa. It had been two days since his release from the hospital. The Imam tried to refill his glass from an old-fashioned looking Moroccan teapot, but Yahya waved him off.

He’d spent the previous day recuperating in bed. Yusra had tried again to talk to him about their father, but he’d told her he was too tired. Tired and unwired. This morning he left while the sky was still dark and the household was still asleep. He went to Masjid Madeenah in Fresno for Fajr prayer, and exchanged a few words with Imam Saleh, making an appointment to see him later that day.

He knew his wife would be angry that he had not spent more recovery time in bed. She’d taken time off work to help him recuperate. He was being ungrateful by going back to work so soon. But he needed to get out. Hit the road for a bit, open his window and let the crisp night air rush over his face. Work the city like a speed skater on ice. Downshift his mind and let his hands and feet take over. Or hand and foot, more like it, since his left leg and arm were still incapacitated.

So yeah, he’d done a handful of Uber rides in the morning. If anyone minded him driving one-handed, they did not complain. People going to work, college students going to school. He always crossed into neighboring Fresno to work, as it was a big city. At one point he arrived at a drugstore to pick up a woman named Caridad. Spanish for Charity, he knew. There was no one in the parking lot but a rail-thin, middle-aged white woman carrying a frayed duffel bag, and a young Latina hanging out near the bus stop, examining her phone. He rolled down his window, called out, “Caridad?”

The middle aged woman took a step toward him.

Yahya frowned. “Are you Caridad?”

“Uh-huh.” The woman came around to the passenger side, opened the door and dropped in, her duffle bag resting on her lap. Yahya studied her. She didn’t seem to have a phone. Her blonde hair was disheveled, and she smelled bad. Her arms were as thin as curtain rods, and the skin on her face was pulled tight across her cheekbones. An old tattoo of a swastika defaced the side of her neck.

At the same time he noticed the young Latina approaching, looking at her phone then up at him quizzically. Hmm.

“You sure you’re Caridad?” he asked the middle aged woman.

“Uh-huh.”

“And you’re going to…” he checked the Uber app. “Hoover High School?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You’re a high school student?”

“Uh-huh.”

The young Latina was now a few steps away. Yahya nodded a greeting to her. “I’m guessing you’re Caridad?”

She nodded earnestly. “Yes.”

Yahya gave his would-be passenger a reproachful look. “You’re not Caridad. You have to get out.”

She glared at him. “I am so.”

Uber stickers“You’re not.” He looked at his phone. “I can see her picture right here.” That was a lie – Uber did not display photos of passengers – but this woman would not know that.

“You mean this picture?” The woman threw her hands up, opened her mouth wide and stuck out her tongue. Then she took her duffle and exited the car.

“Hey lady!” Yahya called the homeless woman back and handed her a twenty dollar bill, which was half of what he’d made thus far that morning, along with his business card, which provided his name, contact info and Uber referral code. Anytime someone signed up for Uber with his code, he got paid. Not that he imagined this woman would be signing up for Uber. “Get yourself something to eat,” he told her. “Some meat.” He wanted to add, “would be neat,” but restrained himself. People didn’t always appreciate his rhymes and alliteration. “My number is on there. If you’re ever hungry, call me and I’ll bring you some food.”

“Thank you,” the woman said solemnly, her demeanor becoming saner, as if the craziness was a tattered garment she could shuck off at will. “My real name is Jinx. But my really for reals name is Barbara.”

He did a few more rides after that, and was now here at the Imam’s stately, tree-shaded home near Fresno City College. The Imam sat before him, a tall man with midnight black skin and a trace of an African accent. Yahya had heard he was highly educated. He had also, from what people said, shaken the community up a bit. He’d founded his own masjid and stipulated that half of the board of directors must be women. Converts too were well represented. The mosque was open to walk-ins by non-Muslims any day of the week. And the Imam was not afraid to address controversial topics. He was a strong advocate for combatting violence against women, mobilizing the Muslim vote, and ending FGM. But this was Yahya’s first time meeting him one-on-one.

“My wife says I should sue the boy,” Yahya said after explaining the situation. “But it doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t the Quran say, ‘Repel [evil] by that which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.’”

The Imam nodded. “Are you hoping this young man will become a devoted friend?”
“Ehm,” Yahya stammered. “Not really. I just don’t believe in taking personal vengeance. Didn’t the Prophet forgive the woman who used to throw garbage in his path every day? When he went out one day and there was no garbage, he went to see her to check if she was alright.”

“That’s true.”

“And when he conquered Mecca and all the Meccans were afraid he would take revenge for their abusing him, he forgave them all.”

The Imam smiled. “That’s true, but you’re all over the map, akh Yahya.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are conflating incidents from the Meccan period with those from the Madinan period. That’s a mistake, especially from a psychological standpoint.”

“What do you mean psychological?”

“It’s very popular these days to speak of forgiveness. New Age spiritual thinkers and pop psychologists love to talk about the power of forgiveness, and how those who forgive live happier lives. There’s a brother who lives right here in Fresno who writes a blog called Islamic Sunrays. He penned an article titled, “When you forgive, you live.”

“Catchy.”

“And true, to a degree. The brother says that forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself, regardless of whether the perpetrator deserves it. But here’s the problem. When the perpetrator holds the power in the relationship, forgiving them is pointless and dangerous. It gives them permission to continue abusing. And with narcissists, forgiving them merely signals that what they did was not so bad. Look at it this way. Say a woman comes into my office. She’s being beaten by her husband on a regular basis. She looks like you.” The Imam gestured to Yahya’s body. “Bruised and bloody. She’s afraid her husband will kill her. Do you think it would be right to counsel her to forgive her husband and remain in the relationship?”

“No, of course not.”

“Right. The question of forgiveness must be tied to the power dynamic between oppressed and oppressor. On the other hand, if she were to escape her husband, divorce him and start a new life, there might come a time when she could forgive him. Not reunite with him – she might never speak to him again – but let go of her hurt and anger, for the sake of her own soul. That brother with the blog, he points out that holding onto resentment ties us to the abuser, but forgiving liberates us. He’s right. But security first, then forgiveness. Can we tell the Palestinians to forgive the occupiers who gun down their children, torture their fathers, and beat their women at checkpoints? Can we say, ‘Never mind, go about your business and pretend it isn’t happening, and we will do the same.’”

“Well, no.”

“That is the example of the Meccan period.”

“But,” Yahya objected, “the Prophet forgave his tormentors even then, like the old woman with the garbage.”

“She was no threat. When the Prophet went to see her she was bedridden. Forgiving her was an act of compassion. But when the family of Yasir was being tortured by Abu Jahl – the archenemy of Islam – in the desert, and the Prophet passed by them, did he tell them to forgive? No, he told them to be patient, and that their meeting place was in Paradise, because that was all he could do. And in the end, at the battle of Badr, when Abdullah ibn Masood – who was nineteen at the time – encountered Abu Jahl as he lay gasping on the battlefield, what did he do? Everything had changed by then. It was the Madinan period. The Muslims had established a sovereign state and were officially at war with the Quraysh. Abu Jahl, though wounded, was an unrepentant torturer and murderer. A monster. So did Ibn Masood forgive him? No, he stepped on his neck and killed him. That is the proper end for tyrants. I’m not suggesting you go to war,” the Imam added hastily. “Not at all. I’m saying, safety first. Forgiveness has a time and a place.”

Yahya was a little taken aback. This was not the line of reasoning he had expected from the Imam, who was known for his moderate, progressive views. “But I’m not talking about forgiving acts against other people. Only against myself. Isn’t it true that the Prophet never sought personal vengeance?”

“Yes. That was his role. He was a bringer of truth to the world, and therefore had to come with unlimited compassion, or he would have sabotaged his own mission. Furthermore, he had the protection of God upon him. Abu Jahl, who I mentioned earlier? Once, during the Meccan period, he vowed that the next time he saw Muhammad prostrating in prayer, he would crush his skull with a heavy stone, consequences be damned. So the next time he saw the Prophet praying before the Ka’bah, he tried to do exactly that. He picked up a boulder and approached him to kill him, then suddenly dropped the stone and fled, pale with terror. The Quraysh questioned him, and he said that when he approached Muhammad, a camel’s stallion got in his way. ‘By God’, he said, ‘I have never seen anything like its head, shoulders, and teeth on any stallion before, and it made as though it would eat me.’”

“And when Suraqah Bin Jusham came at him on a horse, intending to kill him with a spear, the horse kept stumbling and stopping and would not advance. The Prophet was protected because his mission was vital to the world. Are you similarly protected? If you forgive this man Chad, will it mean anything to him? Will it stay his hand from future attacks? Or will it encourage him?”

Yahya thanked the Imam and left feeling confused and conflicted. He understood what the Imam was saying, but he wasn’t sure he could change who he was at his core, or that he even wanted to. As he was leaving, another brother came up the walkway and greeted him and the Imam. There was something about the brother that immediately caught Yahya’s attention. He was of average height, maybe 5’10”, and lean, and wore a brown fedora tipped sideways on his head, like some old school detective. Even though the guy wore worn jeans, surplus army boots, and a shirt that looked like it came off the rack at Walmart, and even though he seemed weatherbeaten and literally hungry, he emanated personal power and charisma. Yahya could see that even without looking at his light.

A Mountain of Gold

Imam Saleh greeted the newcomer warmly and said, “Zaid, I’m glad you’re here. This is brother Yahya. He might need your services.”

Yahya shook the newcomer’s hand and tried to smile, though it hurt his face to do so.

“Oh? What do you do?”

“I’m a private detective.”

How cool. He’d never met a Muslim private detective. He broke out in a grin, but his bottom lip split and a trickle of blood ran into his beard. “Sorry,” he said, wiping his chin with the back of one hand. “I was going to say, that sounds exciting.”

“What happened?” Zaid gestured to his face and arm. “Car accident?”

Yahya shook his head. “No. But I have it in hand. It was good to meet you.” He started down the walkway. Then, curious as to the source of Zaid’s strength, he turned and quite deliberately looked at the man’s light. Relaxing the muscles around his eyes, letting his gaze go soft and unfocused, he looked past Zaid’s rough exterior. At the same time, he consciously dropped his own guard, opening his chest as he thought of it.

Mayon volcanoWhat he saw stunned him. Whereas the man he’d given his shoes to in jail had been a living mountain physically, this mountain was a spiritual mountain. That was in fact what Yahya saw: a mountain, shimmering before him. That was a new thing. He normally just saw colors. This mountain was not tall but was wide and covered in forest. Animals moved through the trees, but they were unfamiliar: a jaguar, something like a cow with a long nose, and some sort of thick groundhog with long legs. There were birds, and monkeys that hooted and roared. A long fissure ran vertically through the center of the mountain, and red light and smoke emanated from it, as if the mountain were filled with fire. Yahya looked deeper, to the very heart of the mountain, and saw ribbons of pure gold that ran all through the stone like veins. As Yahya watched, clouds gathered around the peak. Thunder pealed, and rain fell in dark curtains.

He also saw that the man was torn from his moorings, for the mountain was not rooted in the earth, but drifting through the sky like a cloud. No, that wasn’t quite it. It wasn’t that it had broken away from the earth: it had never belonged in the first place. Yet the man was not lost. He did not despair. It was almost as if he carried a beacon fire within him, and never had to wonder which way to turn. Seeing this prompted Yahya to think about the concept of home, and what it might mean to such a man.

He let the vision go, feeling a moment of dizziness as he did so. He stood stock still until the dizziness passed and the world resolved before him. Imam Saleh and Zaid stood regarding him quizzically. Yahya felt as if he’d been gone for hours, but it seemed no time had passed. It was always that way when he looked at the light. He asked a question before he had time to consider. “What do you say about home?”

Zaid cocked his eyebrows. “Pardon?”

“I can see that you’ve been uprooted. The place that should have been your home never was, the place that actually was your home should not have been, and your latest, truest home has expelled you. So what is home, really? How do you even define it?”

The man gaped at Yahya in apparent amazement. His mouth opened but nothing came out.

“It’s not magic,” Yahya said, realizing that he’d already said too much. He must not reveal his full talent. People rarely believed him. Sometimes they thought he was crazy. If they did believe him, they either feared him or they became over-attached, wanting him to be their personal life coach or spiritual guide, neither of which he desired to do. “I read facial expressions, body language.” That was true as far as it went. “Anyway… Maya Angelou said that home is the safe place where you can go as you are and not be questioned. So if that doesn’t exist, then what is home?”

“Uhh…” Zaid cleared his throat and paused, thinking. “Maybe home in this dunya is not meant to last. Maybe it’s a series of moments when you felt safe and loved, and maybe you hold on to those moments, each one like a thread or a patch, and make a suit out of them that you wear wherever you go.”

Fascinating. Yahya nodded slowly. “I’ll take your card after all.” Zaid handed him a card and he took it, limping as he left.

Think Outside the Bag

“So here’s my idea,” Chad said. He sat on the floor of his room with his back against the wall. Ames’ lanky frame was sprawled across the bed on his back, looking up at the ceiling, his long blond hair fanning out across the pillow. Bram sat at Chad’s little wooden desk. The desk and accompanying wooden chair were holdovers from when Chad was a kid and used to like to draw. Chad was worried that the little chair might collapse beneath the weight of Bram’s hulking, muscular body.

Each of them had a beer in hand. It was a bit cramped with the three of them in this small room, but it was private. His mom and Amelia knew not to enter his room without knocking.

“The raghead works for this new Uber thing, right?” He pronounced it ubber, rhyming with rubber.

“It’s not Ubber,” Bram corrected, still looking up at the ceiling. “It’s Uber, rhymes with goober.”

“Uber goober, Uber goober,” Ames parroted. He might be a karate master with all-American good looks, but he was not the brightest bulb in the box.

“Uber?” Chad frowned. “That’s not a word.”

“German,” Ames explained. “Means exceeding the norms of its kind of class. Super, basically.” He took a pull from his beer.

Chad was annoyed. “German? Why does everything have to be foreign? What’s wrong with American?” And how could Ames drink beer while lying on his back? Chad was jealous. “Anyway,” Chad went on, “my grandma used to have this country house about a half hour out of town. It’s abandoned now, nothing else around. Nobody goes there. So we set up there and call Uber to that address. We tell them to send the new guy, the raghead, because he’s our favorite driver, yakkity yak. Then-”

“Won’t work,” Bram interrupted. “Uber doesn’t work like that. You order it on the internet, through your smartphone-”

“Sh*t.” Chad didn’t have a smartphone. He had a basic phone, an LG Chocolate. He thought it was cool the way it slid up to open. “You have a smartphone, don’t you Ames?”

“Also,” Bram went on, “you get the closest driver, as determined by GPS. You can’t request a particular person.”

Chad gave a disgusted snort. “That’s shot then.”

“How about this?” Ames pointed his beer bottle upward as if it were a pen and he was writing on the ceiling. “We put Ex-Lax in his food to give him diarrhea, then when he goes to the hospital we pose as nurses and kidnap him. We roll him out of the hospital on a gurney and put him in an ambulance that we hijack. From there we drive him to your grandma’s house. We tie him up and kick him in the nuts for what he did to Amelia. We kick him in the nuts until his face turns blue and his eyes pop out.”

Chad and Bram exchanged a look. Chad rolled his eyes. He was about to tell Ames to shut his idiot mouth when Bram said, “That’s problematic. Hospitals require I.D. badges. And I suspect a stolen ambulance would be easy for the authorities to track. Built-in GPS, you know.”

“What about this then?” Ames gestured at the ceiling with the beer bottle, still brainstorming on his imaginary white board. “We invite him to a rave at a downtown warehouse. When he shows up we spike his drink with a roofie, then tie him up and kick him in the-”

“We don’t have a warehouse,” Chad broke in disgustedly. “And there’s no rave. And the guy’s a Muzzie. They only drink camel wine or some crap.”

“We break into a warehouse,” Ames countered. “Throw a rave, give him cranberry juice. Think outside the bag, guys!”

Chad was about to tell Ames to get his skinny blond ass off the bed and make tracks, which would have been a bad idea since they needed his karate skills, when Bram said, “The grandma’s house isn’t a bad idea. But we must be realistic in our approach. How about this? We follow him when he goes to do Uber. We wait until he’s driving alone on a dark street, and we bump into him from behind at a stop sign or light. He gets out to exchange insurance info, we club him with a baseball bat, toss him in the trunk and take him to your grandma’s house.”

“And commence nut-kicking!” Ames crowed.

“Indeed,” Bram agreed.

Chad considered. “Not bad,” he said at last. “Not bad at all. Gentlemen, we have a plan.”

Author’s Note: There will be a delay before the next chapter. I’m working on the final edit for the print version of Zaid Karim. That’s my priority at the moment. Also, with this story, I feel like I need to take time to get to know Yahya better. I’m not quite ready to proceed. – Wael

* * *

Next: Part 5 – To Be Nazi or Not To Be Nazi

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Wael-Abdelgawad/e/B071CYWVDM?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1579756718&sr=8-1Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com, and various financial websites. Heteaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com.For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    SZH

    February 6, 2020 at 6:17 AM

    Wow!!!
    I feel like this is going big. A cross-over, with Zaid.. And you yourself!! <3
    Wow again!!!
    It always have been worth reading every word of your stories.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      February 6, 2020 at 2:51 PM

      Thanks brother. Though this is pretty much the end of Zaid’s appearance here.

      • Avatar

        Bint A

        February 10, 2020 at 11:26 PM

        Aww no… I got so excited when Zaid made an appearance ..thought there would be a nice overlap if Zaid helped catch the bad guys. Like if Bram and Ames escape etc. Please consider it!

        And as Tony commented, I actually copy pasted that quote about home being a suit you wear wherever you go… beautiful imagery.

        PS – the chapter was much too short :(

        • Avatar

          Wael Abdelgawad

          February 11, 2020 at 11:52 PM

          Zaid cannot help out as he will be in Panama within a day or two, and won’t return for some time. But who knows, maybe his helper Jihad will step in, or his friend Saleem Haleem.

  2. Avatar

    Tony

    February 6, 2020 at 2:45 PM

    Awesome story. I need to catch up on parts 1 – 4. I just happened upon this while waiting for my doc appointment. I love the character development. I feel like I’m actually in the story. My favorite line: “Maybe home in this dunya is not meant to last. Maybe it’s a series of moments when you felt safe and loved, and maybe you hold on to those moments, each one like a thread or a patch, and make a suit out of them that you wear wherever you go.” Awesome story Wael! =)

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      February 6, 2020 at 2:53 PM

      Thanks Tony. I actually gave an Uber ride to a woman who was an orphan. We talked, and she told me this. Not the suit part, I made that up, but that home for her was a collection of moments and memories.

      • Avatar

        Tony

        February 6, 2020 at 11:40 PM

        I love the story line Wael. I have some catching up to do. I love a good story and brother you have a skill. =)

  3. Avatar

    SZH

    February 25, 2020 at 6:28 AM

    Another thing on the side. Please also incorporate “change log” in case of any update, correction, deletion of a sentence or a few in the story. The early readers should know if there are any changes. :-P

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#Current Affairs

Propaganda Kills: Holding China Accountable For Its Role In The Coronavirus Pandemic

The world gave China the benefit of doubt on SARS, but the fact that something similar happened again is inexcusable.

Chinese propaganda
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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

15 mins read

In a new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian describes the operating manuals for China’s mass internments and arrests of Uighur Muslims in the occupied territory called Xinjiang (East Turkestan). She describes what the world continues to ignore: China’s ethnic genocide—the destruction of culture, traditions, and mosques— the very fabric of Uighur heritage. 

This is a shocking attempt at reshaping an entire people’s identity. Once reduced to less than animals, it is no surprise that Chinese Communisty Party’s (CCP) evil is now extending to harvesting organs from Uighurs. There is increasing research such as the findings of the China Tribunal led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, a former chief prosecutor of Slobodan Milosevic, that also leads to assertions of physical genocide. 

While the Uighur destruction story has been unfolding for more than a decade and despite courageous reporting to bring it to the attention of the world, the abuse continues unabated. Why?

China’s rampant propaganda machine: Tell China’s story well

The answer lies in China’s propaganda machine, which is unparalleled in its scope and funding. China has committed to spend $6.6 billion on global coverage, emphasizing Chinese power, generosity and centrality to global affairs. While all expenses paid trips, buying airwaves, advertorials, sponsored journalistic coverage and “heavily massaged positive messages from boosters” are no new tactics, unlike other government propaganda machines, China does not accept a plurality of views. The press becomes the eyes, ears, and tongues of the Chinese Communist Party.

The build up of soft power is strategic. A five month investigation by the Guardian reports that, “Beijing has also been patiently increasing its control over the global digital infrastructure through private Chinese companies, which are dominating the switchover from analogue to digital television in parts of Africa, launching television satellites and building networks of fibre-optic cables and data centres – a “digital silk road” – to carry information around the world.Since August 2019.” 10 million of Africa’s 24 million pay-TV subscribers watch low-cost StarTimes, which is CCP-owned. ProPublica has tracked more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts involved in a coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government. Remember Twitter is banned in China. A Reuters investigation across four continents found at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries that are part of a global radio web structured in a way that obscures its majority shareholder: state-run China Radio International, or CRI. The carefully scripted content is broadcast worldwide in more than 60 languages and Chinese dialects. 

The 480 CCP funded Confucius Institutes in various universities in six continents are staffed with visiting teachers from China and offer language classes, cultural programming and outreach. They teach that Taiwan, Tibet and East Turkestan are integral parts of China and ignore human rights. However, many see them as a part of the propaganda machine and have been criticized by professors concerned about academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The CCP admits as much, Politburo standing member Li Changchun said. “[Confucius Institute] has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”

One just needs to look at China’s neighbor Pakistan, home of 4 Confucius Institutes, Xinhua Urdu News channel and a $60 billion CCP investment, to see the effect of wholesale Chinese brainwashing. Like the rest of the Muslim “Ummah”, Pakistanis decry the human rights abuses against Kashmiris, Rohingya,  Palestinians, etc., but when it comes to human rights abuse against Uighur Muslims, a majority of Pakistanis dismiss it as “Western propaganda”.

Much of this is because of a systematic response team run by the China Economic Net, a Beijing-based online news organization, and the Islamabad-based Pakistan China Institute. The system disseminates information to counter “negative” news about the neocolonial Belt and Road initiative. The think tank also runs China-Pakistan Media Forum, and for 5 years has been bringing Pakistani and Chinese journalists together to counter negative news.

Pakistan may be an extreme case, but it is not unique. Most of the world is either unaware or uncertain about the extent of the abuse against Uighurs. 

This reflects the extent to which China has been successful in hiding its dirty secrets.

Will there be another cover-up on COVID19?

More than 23,000 people are dead globally from COVID-19. Since the first Dec. 30 announcement of a new disease in Wuhan, the CCP has spun a narrative.

Recently three lawsuits were filed against the CCP government. In one, attorney Robert Eglet claimed that China’s government should have shared more information about the virus but intimidated doctors, scientists, journalists and lawyers while allowing the COVID-19 respiratory illness to spread.

CCP’s propaganda machine is now attempting to cover-up China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic; it has gone into hyper mode. In a must-watch short documentary on New York Times, reporters identify three dominant themes that China wants to promote to the world: spinning optimism, protecting China’s image, and disputing the origin of the virus:

Spinning optimism and protecting China’s image:

Everyday we are hearing stories of Chinese medical goods and medical teams reaching other countries to provide assistance in fighting the virus. This is certainly laudable, but one must not forget the context of these stories that are glowingly reported by Chinese news sources and officials on Twitter. This is part of the government spin to turn the Chinese government from the creator of the problem to the Good Samaritan. It is akin to setting someone’s house on fire and then sending in the fire trucks. One can acknowledge that the fire-trucks are helpful, but should one forget who started the fire?

The source of the COVID-19:

Despite China’s massive attempts at shifting the virus origins outside China, the overwhelming evidence points to Wuhan as the epicenter of the pandemic.  If there is one video to watch to understand how this virus came into being, then it is this from Vox.

Everyone remembers SARS from 2003, a zoonoses – human infection of animal origin. What most people didn’t know is how SARS came into being. Historically, small farmers in China ate wildlife that they caught on the farms. However, after China designated wildlife as a “natural resource” in the late 1980s, it led to its mass-scale industrialization, worth billions. As it is, China has a poor record in food supply chain controls, and by allowing this unprecedented commercialization of wildlife, it opened the doors for exotic viruses to find their way into humans.

With the breeding industrialization, wildlife markets were established and wildlife started flooding regular wet markets (where meat, fish, and produce is sold) leading to its mixing with staple animals under atrocious conditions. This allowed viruses to move from one animal species to another, eventually leading to the SARS outbreak. The SARS virus was traced to a wet market in Foshan, Guangdong province, most likely passed from masked palm civets and/or bats to humans. This is a wildlife regulation problem.

While China shut down the markets immediately after SARS, it decided to reopen them in a short time. Greed trumped humanity. It was only a matter of time that some new virus would jump species and find its way into humans. And that is exactly what happened. A study found that the novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19 that has been found in patients infected in the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, is almost totally identical to one that infects bats.

Racism towards people of Chinese heritage

It is important to keep in mind that ordinary Chinese people have faced the brunt of the initial virus outbreak. Their frustrations and anger was captured in tweets by New York Times correspondent Amy Qin from Wuhan. There is no excuse and basis for discriminating against the people of China. They are very much part of the common humanity with the rest of the world who are suffering due to the grave and criminal blunders of the Chinese government. It is important to acknowledge that some individuals are promoting racist tropes against the Chinese, and this must be opposed, while not allowing the Chinese government to get away with a cover-up.

Some of the racist tropes making rounds online are about food choices in China. What Chinese people eat is their choice. People all over the world eat all types of animals. Some folks may find the consumption of camel, kangaroo, and desert lizard disgusting, even while Muslim diet permits all three. We may not like what others eat, but we are not in a position to dictate those choices. What we can emphasize though universally is that the meat industry must provide sanitary conditions to animals, and their slaughter should also be conducted in a humane way. For example, cooking animals alive or clubbing them to death are practices that can be universally condemned, but what cannot be allowed is to engage in racist tropes about what people eat.

One must also note that while the Chinese do have a wider spectrum of animals they will eat, “the majority of the people in China do not eat wildlife animals”. As Peter Li points out in the VOX video, “those people who consume these wildlife animals are the rich and the powerful –a small minority.” 

The cover-up is harmful

Coronavirus has brought the world to its knees. People have lost their lives and livelihoods. Poor countries are even at greater risk of being completely devastated if the virus takes hold, as it did in Wuhan or Italy. 

And it could have been prevented.

A University of Southampton study found that “if interventions in the country [by Beijing] could have been conducted one week, two weeks, or three weeks earlier, cases could have been reduced by 66 percent, 86 percent and 95 percent respectively – significantly limiting the geographical spread of the disease”.

Instead of focusing on controlling the disease, the Chinese government was focused on PR. Instead of managing the disease, President Xi was busy managing WHO’s response, which parroted Chinese government propaganda that “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.”

So China not only allowed conditions for the rise of the deadly virus, its actions led to a far more severe outbreak than a transparent and controlled prevention program would have allowed. It co-opted the WHO into its propaganda and we must call China out for its actions.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Despite the clear evidence of China’s role in both the rise and spread of the virus, there is a severe pushback (some from Chinese propaganda and some from “woke” channels) against calling China out on the pandemic. While calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” is very problematic, it is also not helpful to absolve China of its attempted cover-up and then get out of hand.

Concern for ordinary Chinese people is sincerely intentioned. However, holding China accountable is not racism. The world gave China the benefit of doubt on SARS, but the fact that something similar happened again is inexcusable. China has been getting away with abuse within its boundaries, and if it gets away with the coronavirus cover-up, who knows what other abuses and viruses the world will see in the years to come.  

Holding China accountable means that it should not business as usual after this is all over, as Shadi Hamid rightfully points out in an excellent succinct essay, published in The Atlantic.

It means that the abuse of Uighur Muslims must stop. Those in US, here is a call you can make to help close the camps

It means that wildlife industrial operations must be stopped permanently.

It means that China must compensate the world for wreaking havoc, especially funding recovery of poor nations with no strings attached 

Finally, and most importantly, it means that China’s propaganda machine must be checked and countered. Major news outlets must directly and explicitly fact-check Chinese propaganda. CCP’s bizarre attempts at raising concerns about racism, while it is in the middle of destroying an entire race, should be exposed for what it is: an attempted cover-up. It shouldn’t get away with it this time.

 (Hena Zuberi contributed to this piece)

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The Summer When Everything Changed – A Middle School Islamic Fiction Novel

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Let’s write a book together.” That is how it all started in the summer of 2016. As two young writers, passionate about our craft, we ventured together to fulfill our shared dream: to write a relatable novel about Muslim youth. 

Nura Fahzy and I had already developed a strong bond with each other in the years since we had first become e-pals. We bonded over our common interests: we both are very passionate about writing, we were both homeschoolers, and we pretty much have the same name! We regularly communicated about our writings, gave honest feedback to each other, and even wrote a few articles together. This new project, however, was a big step forward in our relationship. We now had to brainstorm, develop, and write a novel together. 

I had recently moved to North Carolina, and Nura lived in Texas. We worked through our book entirely through online communication, never having actually met in person. Google Hangouts was our go-to for planning and discussing every detail about our characters, storylines, and potential plot holes . We had countless Google spreadsheets to organize our characters and story. After much back and forth for three years, writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more, we finally published our first novel, “The Summer When Everything Changed” this summer, alhamdulillah.

“The Summer When Everything Changed” is a middle school Islamic fiction novel. Our book is a mixture of all the things we love to read in novels. It has a touch of mystery, halal romance, and lots of drama: sibling drama, friend drama and other day to day dramas of young kids. What makes our story extra special to us is that it incorporates Islamic lessons and practices throughout the book in a subtle way that avoids being very preachy but still gets its point across.

Both Nura and I had grown up avid readers and writers. We had read through all the Islamic fiction books we could get our hands on, but were still left wanting for more. Having grown up in a time when halal entertainment was scarce, Nura and I strongly believe in the importance of Islamic literature for fostering children’s imaginations and strengthening their connections to their Muslim identity.

Living in a time when there is so much divisive rhetoric and hate around us, we believe that we need representation in the media and in literature now more than ever. Children need to read about others like them who are imperfect and have similar daily struggles and joys. Our characters are everyday American Muslim kids with common life experiences and challenges that other kids can relate to, as well. Therefore, our book is targeted towards not only Muslim boys and girls, but also to children who come from all backgrounds. 

We believe that literature is an important tool that can help bring people together. While allowing us to understand and appreciate other cultures, it also shows us just how much we have in common with each other. When we first wrote this book, we thought of our younger siblings, cousins, and family friends and the kinds of books we wanted them to have available to read. We hope that “The Summer When Everything Changed” and future books in our series serve as steps forward, making all Muslim children feel represented and proud to be Muslim.

Story Blurb: 

For Hanaan, the freedom of summer means hours of uninterrupted quality time with her sister and countless sunny days spent writing in her special place. For Ameerah, it means shooting hoops with her friends and working out. 

But unwelcome family circumstances shatter their plans, throwing the two girls with vastly different personalities together. Can they set aside their differences to resolve an important union or will their mutual dislike result in disaster for both of their families?

Amazon Link

Barnes and Noble Link

Author Bios:

Nura Fahzy is the second-born of four siblings. After 5 moves in 5 different states, she is currently settled in Texas. An American-born Malaysian, Nura studied digital art and design at North Lake College, Class of 2019. Her favorite color is pink, and her preferred ice cream flavors are coffee and chocolate. She enjoys drawing and making food. 

Nur Kose is an American-Bengali-Turkish Muslim who is the eldest of five siblings. Nur has roots in upstate New York, Delaware, and North Carolina, where she studied English and Arabic at UNC-Chapel Hill, Class of 2019. Some of her favorite things are reading, snow, and ice cream. Her favorite ice cream flavors are Snickers and banana split. She is also the author of the STAIRS series. 

For updates and more information on our book series, check out our social media pages. We have a facebook page, The Two Lights as well as an instagram account @thetwolights. We also have a blog thetwolights.wordpress.com. We encourage you to follow us on social media to see sneak peeks of our work, new content, and updates about our future projects.

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Muslim Literature: The Pros, The Progress, And The Pitfalls

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction, in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work.

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Once upon a time, it was extremely difficult for English-speaking Muslims to find good books – fiction and non-fiction alike – that was catered to their demographic. Fiction, in particular, was scarce, for both young children as well as teens. Much of it was poorly written, filled with atrocious spelling and grammar, and stilted from beginning to end.

It was not an enjoyable reading experience.

Alhamdulillah, the Muslim literary scene has evolved significantly since the early 90s. Today, we have award-winning Muslim authors such as Na’ima B. Robert, whose excellent YA novels have been published through mainstream publishers and numerous emerging writers whose debut novels are wonderful contributions to the existing body of modern Muslim literature.

Muslim publishers such as Kube Publishing, Daybreak Press, and Ruqaya’s Bookshelf are taking the lead in producing and distributing stories by and for Muslims. In addition, the publishing company Simon and Schuster launched an entire division dedicated to books by Muslim writers. Hena Khan, S. K. Ali, Karuna Riazi, and Mark Gonzales are just some of the authors whose Muslim-centered stories have been published through Salaam Reads and made accessible to schools, libraries, and the general public. The We Need Diverse Books movement has also played a significant role in promoting multicultural and marginalized voices within mainstream publishing, and the results are wonderful. 

Elevating Standards in Muslim Literature

Within the Muslim community, however, work still needs to be done. Unfortunately, as ever, the tendency to fall short of professional continues to make itself clear, in both self-published works as well as work that is published through Muslim publishers. It is common to find children’s stories that are riddled with typos, run-on sentences, poor plot structure, and nonexistent character development. In the pursuit of promoting Islamic values, too many fall into being overtly preachy and moralizing, with no regard for the fine art of storytelling.

The result is that time, effort, and money are wasted; having a plethora of “Islamic books” does us very little good when the final product is of little benefit and serves to turn children and young adults away from Muslim-focused stories. Parents and educators also find themselves frustrated with these poorly developed books, especially when they are seeking stories more representative of religiously observant Muslims rather than those who take Islam as a cultural identity marker. 

While it is certainly encouraging to see more Muslims actively contributing to the field of Muslim literature, we must recognize the difference between quality and quantity – and the importance of the former over the latter. It is true that traditional publishing is a difficult niche to get into, especially for those with no previous experience with writing or the publishing industry. This is often a motivating factor for many Muslim writers to either go with a Muslim publisher or turn to self-publishing as a means of making their work available.

However, the push to keep costs low comes at a price of its own. The vast majority of the time, it is clear that a qualified, professional editor was not hired to look over the manuscript. While some people may think that it is not a serious issue, especially for children’s books, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Children’s books actually require extra attention; one must be clear on the targeted demographic and tailor the story and language appropriately, and the illustrations and the words alike need to be engaging and lively, regardless of the intended age group. In particular, when the subject matter is religion-focused, it is important that the approach taken is not dry, academic, or presented in a way that young readers cannot connect with personally.

The quality of a book should never be sacrificed in order to keep costs low; as Muslims, we should be even more particular about producing high-quality work that will be a valuable resource to be used both within our own communities as well as to the non-Muslim public. 

Self Publishing Woes

Self-publishing is particularly dangerous when the aspiring author has done little to no research on writing and publishing and has even less experience with writing well. Unfortunately, too many Muslim writers over-estimate their own abilities and rush headlong into self-publishing… with painful, often cringe-inducing results. It is particularly distressing when certain over-confident and under-qualified Muslim writers then exult over unearned praise from readers who, unfortunately, are not always as discerning as they should be – leading said writers to feel secure in their writing abilities and going on to produce even more subpar work.

The importance of having a strong editor cannot be overstated; having a “friend of a friend” with no qualifications to review and ‘edit’ the story simply does not cut it. Choosing the professional way to write and publish will inevitably take more time and effort – and yes, financial cost – to produce a final result, but that investment of energy will be much, much more worth it in the long run (and will also spare readers the agony of seeing “there,” “their,” and “they’re” constantly used the wrong way).

Having higher standards and holding Muslim writers (and publishers) accountable for their work is not meant to be discouraging. Rather, our intention is to encourage their success – in a way that is meaningful, not blindly supportive. We all wish to see our brothers and sisters in Islam succeed and to continue to contribute to an extremely important field. Addressing these weaknesses from the very beginning will ultimately result in long-term success and benefit the writers and the readers alike. 

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work, and to seek professional and qualified editors and publishers with whom to work and produce their books. The current substandard quality of many Muslim-produced books is counter-productive to the intended goal of providing beneficial resources for Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. It makes parents and educators reluctant to use and share those works with their children and students.

Investing time and energy into improving the quality of our literature will only result in success, for the writers and their readership alike – so let us truly take our work seriously, and be committed to undertaking our efforts with Ihsaan.

Credit to MuslimKidsBookNook for her valuable contributions.

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